Gateway to the Classics: Richard II by Jacob Abbott
Richard II by  Jacob Abbott

Childhood of Richard

The child of Edward the Black Prince, who afterward became Richard the Second, king of England, was born at Bordeaux, in the southwestern part of France, in the year 1367, in the midst of a scene of great military bustle and excitement. The circumstances were these.

When peace was finally made between England and France, after the wars described in the last chapter were over, one of the results of the treaty which was made was that certain provinces in the southwestern part of France were ceded to England, and formed into a principality called Aquitaine, and this principality was placed under the dominion of the Black Prince. The title of the prince was thenceforth not only Prince of Wales, but also Prince of Aquitaine. The city of Bordeaux, near the mouth of the Garonne, as shown by the map, was the chief city of Aquitaine. There the prince established his court, and reigned, as it were, for several years in great splendor. The fame which he had acquired attracted to his court a great number of knights and nobles from all lands, and whenever a great personage had any wrongs, real or imaginary, to be redressed, or any political end to gain which required the force of arms, he was very likely to come to the Prince of Aquitaine, in order, if possible, to secure his aid. Prince Edward was rather pleased than otherwise with these applications, for he loved war much better than peace, and, though he evinced a great deal of moderation and generosity in his conduct in the treatment of his vanquished enemies, he was none the less really excited and pleased with the glory and renown which his victories gained him.

About six months before Richard was born, while Edward was living with the princess, his wife, in Bordeaux, he received an application for aid from a certain Don Pedro, who claimed to be King of Navarre in Spain, but who had been expelled from his kingdom by his brother. There was also a certain James who claimed to be the King of Majorca, a large island in the Mediterranean Sea, who was in much the same situation in respect to his  kingdom. Prince Edward promised to aid Don Pedro in recovering his throne, and he forthwith began to make preparations to this end. He also promised James that, as soon as he had accomplished the work which he had undertaken for Don Pedro, he would fit out an expedition to Majorca, and so restore him too to his kingdom.

The preparations which he made for the expedition into Spain were prosecuted in a very vigorous manner. Don Pedro was destitute of means as well as of men, and Edward was obliged to raise a large sum of money for the provisioning and paying of his troops. His vassals, the nobles and barons of his principality, were obliged to furnish the men, it being the custom in those times that each vassal should bring to his lord, in case of war, as many soldiers as could be spared from among his own tenants and retainers—some fifty, some one hundred, and some two hundred, or even more, according to the extent and populousness of their estates. One of the nobles in Prince Edward's service, named Lord D'Albret, had offered to bring a thousand men. The prince had asked him on some public occasion, in presence of other knights and noblemen, how many men he could furnish for the expedition.

"My lord," replied Lord D'Albret, "if you really wish for all the strength that I can furnish, I can bring you a thousand lances, and still have enough at home to guard the country."

The prince was surprised at this answer. He did not know, it seems, how powerful the barons of his principality were.

"By my head!" said he, addressing Lord D'Albret and speaking in French, which was, of course, the language of Aquitaine, "that will be very handsome."

He then turned to some English nobles who were near, and speaking in English, said it was worth while to rule in a country where one baron could attend his lord with a thousand lances. He was ashamed not to accept this offer, for, according to the ideas of these times, it would not be at all consistent with what was expected of a prince that he should not be able to maintain and pay as many troops, as his barons could bring him. So he said hastily, turning to D'Albret, that he engaged them all.

Although, in the end, Don Pedro, if he succeeded in regaining his kingdom, was to refund the expenses of the war, yet, in the first instance, it was necessary for the prince to raise the money, and he soon found that it would be very difficult for him to raise enough. He was unwilling to tax too heavily the subjects of his principality, and so, after collecting as much as he thought prudent in that way, he sent to England to his father, explaining the nature and design of the proposed expedition, and soliciting his father's approval of it, and, at the same time, asking for aid in the way of funds. King Edward replied, cordially approving of the enterprise. He also promised to send on the prince's brother John, with a body of troops to accompany the expedition. This John was the one who has already been mentioned as born in Ghent, and who was called, on that account, John of Gaunt. He was also Duke of Lancaster, and is often designated by that name. Edward was very much attached to his brother John, and was very much pleased to hear that he was coming to join him.

The King of England also, Edward's father, made arrangements for sending to his son a large sum of money. This was of great assistance to him, but still he had not money enough. So he broke up his plate, both gold and silver, and caused it to be coined, in order to assist in filling his treasury. Still, notwithstanding all that he could do, he found it difficult to provide sufficient funds for the purchase of the provisions that he required, and for the pay of the men.

It was rather late in the season when the prince first formed the plan of this expedition. He was very anxious to set out as soon as possible, for he had the Pyrenees to cross, in order to pass from France into Spain, and it would be impossible, he knew, to conduct an army over the mountains after the winter should set in; so he hastened his preparations as much as possible. He was kept in a continued fever by his impatience, and by the various delays and disappointments which were constantly occurring. In the mean while, time moved on, and it began at length to be doubtful whether he should be ready to march before the winter should set in.

To add to his perplexity, his wife begged him to postpone his departure till the spring, in order that he might remain at home with her until after their child should be born. She was dejected in spirits, and seemed particularly sad and sorrowful at the thought of her husband's going away to leave her at such a time. She knew, too, the undaunted recklessness with which he was accustomed to expose himself to danger in his campaigns, and if he went away she could not but think that it was uncertain whether he would ever return.

Finally, the prince concluded to put off his departure until spring. This determination, however, in some sense increased his perplexities, for now he had a large proportion of his force to maintain and pay through the winter. This made it necessary that he should curtail his plans in some degree, and, among other things, he resolved to notify the Baron D'Albret not to bring his whole complement of one thousand men. It was a great humiliation to him to do this after having formally agreed to engage the men, but he felt compelled, by the necessity of the case, to do so, and he accordingly wrote to the baron the following letter:

"My Lord d'Albret ,

"Whereas, out of our liberal bounty, we have retained you, with a thousand lances, to serve under us in the expedition which, through the grace of God, we intend speedily to undertake and briefly to finish, having duly considered the business, and the costs and expenses we are at, we have resolved that several of our vassals should remain at home in order to guard the territories. For these causes, it has been determined in our council that you shall serve in this expedition with two hundred lances only. You will choose the two hundred out from the rest, and the remainder you will leave at home to follow their usual occupations.

"May God have you under his holy protection.

        "Given at Bordeaux, the eighth day of December.


This letter was sealed with the great seal of the prince, and sent to D'Albret, who was in his own country, busily engaged in assembling and equipping his men, and making the other necessary preparations. The baron was exceedingly indignant when he received the letter. In those days, every man that was capable of bearing arms liked much better to be taken into the service of some prince or potentate going to war than to remain at home to cultivate the ground in quiet industry. D'Albret knew, therefore, very well, that his vassals and retainers would be all greatly disappointed to learn that four fifths of their whole number were, after all, to remain at home, and then, besides this, his own importance in the campaign would be greatly diminished by reducing the force under his command from one thousand to two hundred men. He was extremely angry when he read the letter.

"How is this?" he exclaimed. "My lord the Prince of Wales trifles with me when he orders me to disband eight hundred knights and squires whom, by his command, I have retained, and have diverted from other means of obtaining profit and honor." Then he called for a secretary, and said to him in a rage,

"Write what I shall dictate to you."

The secretary wrote as follows from his master's dictation:

  "My Dear Lord,"

"I am marvelously surprised at the contents of the letter which you have sent me. I do not know and can not imagine what answer I can make. Your present orders will do me a great injury, and subject me to much blame. For all the men-at-arms whom I have retained by your command have already made their preparations for entering your service, and were only waiting your orders to march. By retaining them for your service I have prevented them from seeking honor and profit elsewhere. Some of the knights had actually made engagements to go beyond sea, to Jerusalem, to Constantinople, or to Russia, in order to advance themselves, and now, having relinquished these advantageous prospects in order to join your enterprise, they will be extremely displeased if they are left behind. I am myself equally displeased, and I can not conceive what I have done to deserve such treatment. And I beg you to understand, my lord, that I can not be separated from my men; nor will they consent to be separated from each other. I am convinced that, if I dismiss any of them, they will all go."

The baron added other words of the same tenor, and then, signing and sealing the letter, sent it to the prince. The prince was angry in his turn when he received this letter.

"By my faith," said he, "this man D'Albret is altogether too great a man for my country, when he seeks thus to disobey an order from my council. But let him go where he pleases. We will perform this expedition, if it please God, without any  of his thousand lances."

This case presents a specimen of the perplexities and troubles in which the prince was involved during the winter, while organizing his expedition and preparing to set out in the spring. The want of money was the great difficulty, for there was no lack of men. Don Pedro agreed, it is true, that when he recovered his kingdom he would pay back the advances which Edward had to make, but he was so unprincipled a man that Edward knew very well that he could not trust to his promises unless he gave some security. So Don Pedro agreed to leave his three daughters in Edward's hands as hostages to secure the payment of the money.

The names of the three princesses thus pledged as collateral security for money borrowed were Beatrice, Constance, and Isabel.

At length, on the third day of April, the child was born. The princess was in a monastery at the time, called the monastery of St. Andrew, whither she had retired for privacy and quiet. Immediately after the event, Prince Edward, having made every thing ready before, gave orders that the expedition should set forward on the road to Spain. He himself was to follow as soon as the baptism of the child should be performed. The day on which the child was born was Wednesday, and Friday was fixed for the baptism. The baptism took place at noon, at a stone font in the church of the monastery. The King of Majorca, whom the prince had promised to restore to his kingdom, was one of the godfathers. The child was named Richard.


Richard Receiving the Visit of his Uncle John

On the Sunday following the prince bade his wife and the little infant farewell, and set out from Bordeaux with great pomp, at the head of an immense cavalcade, and went on to join the expedition which was already on its way to Spain.

The birth of Richard was an event of great importance, for he was not only the son of the Prince of Aquitaine, but he was the grandson of the King of England, and, of course, every one knew that he might one day be the King of England himself. Still, the probability was not very great that this would happen, at least for a long period to come; for, though his father, Prince Edward, was the oldest son of the King of England, he himself was not the oldest son of his father. He had a brother who was some years older than himself, and, of course, there were three lives that must be terminated before his turn should come to reign in England—his grandfather's, his father's, and his brother's.

It happened that all these three lives were  terminated in a comparatively brief period, so that Richard really became King of England before he grew up to be a man.

The first important occurrence which took place at the monastery at Bordeaux, where little Richard remained with his mother after his father had gone, was the arrival of his uncle John, that is, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, who was on his way from England at the head of an army to accompany his brother into Spain. John stopped at Bordeaux to see the princess and the infant child. He was very joyfully received by the princess, and by all the ladies in attendance upon her. The princess was very fond of her brother, and she was much pleased that he was going to join her husband in the war in Spain; besides, he brought her late and full news from England. The duke, however, did not remain long at Bordeaux, but, after a brief visit to his sister, he put himself again at the head of his troops, and hurried forward to overtake the prince, who was already far on his way toward the Pyrenees and Spain.

Little Richard remained in Bordeaux for three or four years. During this time he had his brother for a playmate, but he saw little of his father. It was some time before his father returned from Spain, and when he did return he came home much depressed in spirits, and harassed and vexed with many cares. He had succeeded, it is true, in conquering Don Pedro's enemies, and in placing Don Pedro himself again upon the throne; but he had failed in getting back the money that he had expended. Don Pedro could not or would not repay him. What Prince Edward did with the three daughters of the king that had been left with him as hostages I do not know. At any rate, he could not pay his debts with them, or raise money by means of them to silence his clamorous troops. He attempted to lay fresh taxes upon the people of Aquitaine. This awakened a great deal of discontent. The barons who had had disagreements of any sort with Edward before, took advantage of this discontent to form plots against him, and at last several of them, D'Albret among the rest, whom he had mortally offended by countermanding his orders for the thousand men, combined together and sent to the King of France, complaining of the oppressions which they suffered under Edward's rule, and inviting him to come and help them free themselves. The king at once determined that he would do this.

This King of France was, however, not King John, whom Edward had made prisoner and sent to London. King John had died, and the crown had descended to his successor, Charles the Fifth.

King Charles determined first to send two commissioners to summon the Prince of Aquitaine into his presence to give an account of himself. He did this under the pretext that Aquitaine was part of France, and that, consequently, Prince Edward was in some sense under his jurisdiction.

The two commissioners, with their attendants, left Paris, and set out on their journey to Bordeaux. People traveled very slowly in those days, and the commissioners were a long time on the way. At length, however, they reached Bordeaux. They arrived late in the evening, and took up their quarters at an inn. The next day they repaired to the monastery where the prince was residing.

They informed the attendants who received them at the monastery that they had been sent by the King of France with a message to the prince. The attendants, who were officers of the prince's court, informed the prince of the arrival of the strangers, and he ordered them to be brought into his presence.

The commissioners, on being brought before the prince, bowed very low in token of reverence, and presented their credentials. The prince, after reading the credentials, and examining the seals of the King of France by which they were authenticated, said to the commissioners,

"It is very well. These papers show that you are duly commissioned embassadors from the King of France. You are welcome to our court. And you can now proceed to communicate the message with which you have been charged."

Of the two commissioners, one was a lawyer, and the other a knight. The knight bore the singular name of Caponnel de Caponnal. The lawyer, of course, was the principal speaker at the interview with the prince, and when the prince called for the communication which had been sent from the King of France, he drew forth a paper which he said contained what the King of France had to say, and which, he added, they, the commissioners, had promised faithfully to read in the prince's presence.

The prince, wondering greatly what the paper could contain, ordered the lawyer to proceed with the reading of it.

The lawyer read as follows:

"Charles, by the grace of God, King of France, to our nephew the Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, health.

"Whereas several prelates, barons, knights, universities, fraternities, and colleges of the country and district of Gascony, residing and inhabiting upon the borders of our realm, together with many others from the country and duchy of Aquitaine, have come before us in our court to claim justice for certain grievances and unjust oppressions which you, through weak counsel and foolish advice, have been induced to do them, and at which we are much astonished;

"Therefore, in order to obviate and remedy such things, we do take cognizance of their cause, insomuch that we, of our royal majesty and sovereignty, order and command you to appear in our city of Paris in person, and that you show and present yourself before us in our chamber of Paris, to hear judgment pronounced upon the aforesaid complaints and grievances done by you to our subjects, who claim to be heard, and to have the jurisdiction of our court.

"Let there be no delay in obeying this summons, but set out as speedily as possible after having heard this order read.

"In witness whereof we have affixed our seal to these presents.

        "Given at Paris the twenty-fifth day of January, 1369.
"Charles R."

On hearing this letter read, the prince was filled with astonishment and indignation. He paused a moment, with his eyes fixed upon the commissioners, as if not knowing what to reply. At length, with an expression of bitter irony upon his countenance, he said,

"We shall willingly appear at the appointed day at Paris, since the King of France sends for us, but it will be with our helmet on our head, and accompanied by sixty thousand men."

The commissioners, seeing how much the prince was displeased, began immediately to entreat him not to be angry with them as the bearers of the message.

"Oh no," said the prince, "I am not in the least angry with you, but only with those that sent you hither. Your master, the King of France, has been exceedingly ill advised in thus pretending to claim jurisdiction over our dominion of Aquitaine, and in taking the part of our discontented subjects against us, their rightful sovereign. When he surrendered the provinces to the King of England, my father, as he did by solemn treaty, he relinquished forever all jurisdiction over them, and in the exercise of my government I acknowledge no superior except my father. Tell the King of France that is what I claim and will maintain. It shall cost a hundred thousand lives before it shall be otherwise."

Having spoken these words in a calm and quiet, but very resolute and determined tone, the prince walked off out of the apartment, leaving the commissioners in a great state of astonishment and alarm. They seemed to know not what to do.

Some of the courtiers came to them and advised them to withdraw. "It is useless," said they, "for you to attempt any thing more. You have delivered your message faithfully, and the prince has given his answer. It is the only answer that he will give, you may depend, and you may as well return with it to the king."

So the messengers went back to the inn, and on the evening of the same day they set out on their return to Paris. In the mean time, Prince Edward continued to feel extremely indignant at the message which he had received. The more he reflected upon it, indeed, the more angry he became. He felt as if he had been insulted in having had such a summons from a foreign potentate served upon him by a lawyer in his own house. The knights and barons around him, sharing his anger, proposed that they should pursue and seize the commissioners, with a view of punishing them for their audacity in bringing such a message. At first the prince was unwilling to consent to this, as the persons of embassadors and messengers of all sorts sent from one sovereign to another were, in those days as now, considered sacred. At last, however, he said that he thought the men were hardly to be considered as the messengers of the King of France.

"They are virtually," said he, "the messengers of D'Albret and the other factious and rebellious barons among our own subjects, who complained to the King of France and incited him to interfere in our affairs, and, as such, I should not be sorry to have them taken and punished."

This was sufficient. The knights who heard it immediately sent off a small troop of horsemen, who overtook the commissioners before they reached the frontier. In order not to compromise the prince, they said nothing about having been sent by him, but arrested the men on a charge of having taken a horse which did not belong to them from the inn. Under pretense of investigating this charge, they took the men to a neighboring town and shut them up in a castle there.

Some of the attendants of the commissioners, who had come with them from France, made their escape, and, returning to Paris, they reported to the King of France all that had occurred. It now came his turn to be angry, and both parties began to prepare for war.

The King of England took sides with his son, and so was drawn at once into the quarrel. Various military expeditions were fitted out on both sides. Provinces were ravaged, and towns and castles were stormed. The Prince of Wales was overwhelmed with the troubles and perplexities which surrounded him. His people were discontented, his finances were low, and the fortune of war often turned against him. His health, too, began to fail him, and he sank into a state of great dejection and despondency. To complete the sum of his misfortunes, his oldest son, Richard's brother, fell sick and died. This was a fortunate event for Richard, for it advanced him to the position of the oldest surviving son, and made him thus his father's heir. It brought him, too, one step nearer to the English throne. Richard was, however, at this time only four years old, and thus was too young to understand these things, and probably, sympathizing with his father and mother, he mourned his brother's death. The parents, at any rate, were exceedingly grieved at the loss of their first-born child, and the despondency of the prince was greatly increased by the event.

At last the physicians and counselors of Edward advised that he should leave his principality for a time and repair to England. They hoped that by the change of scene and air he might recover his spirits, and perhaps regain his health. The prince resolved on following this advice. So he made arrangements for leaving his principality under the government and care of his brother, John of Gaunt, and then ordered a vessel to be made ready at Bordeaux to convey himself, the princess, and Richard to England.

When every thing was ready for his departure, he convened an assembly of all the barons and knights of his dominions in a hall of audience at Bordeaux, and there solemnly committed the charge of the principality to his brother John in the presence of them all.

He said in the speech that he made to them on that occasion, that during all the time that he had been their prince, he had always maintained them in peace, prosperity, and power, so far as depended on him, against all their enemies, and that now, in the hope of recovering his health, which was greatly impaired, he intended to return to England. He therefore earnestly besought them to place confidence in, and faithfully serve and obey, his brother, the Duke of Lancaster, as they had hitherto served and obeyed him.

The barons all solemnly promised to obey these injunctions, and they took the oath of fealty and homage to the duke. They then bid the prince farewell, and he soon afterward embarked on board the ship with his wife and son, and set sail for England.

The fleet which accompanied the prince on the voyage, as convoy to the prince's ship, contained five hundred men-at-arms, and a large body of archers besides. This force was intended to guard against the danger of being intercepted by the French on the way. The prince and the princess must, of course, have felt some solicitude on this account, but Richard, being yet only four years old, was too young to concern himself with any such fears. So he played about the ship during the voyage, untroubled by the anxieties and cares which weighed upon the spirits of his father and mother.

The voyage was a very prosperous one. The weather was pleasant and the wind was fair, and after a few days' sail the fleet arrived safely at Southampton. The king, with his family and suite, disembarked. They remained two days at Southampton to refresh themselves after the voyage, and to allow the prince, who seemed to be growing worse rather than better, a little time to gather strength for the journey to London. When the time arrived for setting out, he was found too ill to travel by any of the ordinary modes, and so they placed him upon a litter, and in this way the party set out for Windsor Castle.

The party traveled by easy stages, and at length arrived at the castle. There Richard for the first time saw his grandfather, Edward the Third, King of England. They were all very kindly received by him. After remaining a short time at Windsor Castle, the prince, with his wife and Richard, and the knights, and barons, and other attendants who had come with him from Aquitaine, proceeded to a place called Birkhamstead, about twenty miles from London, and there took up his abode.


Portrait of Edward the Third, Richard's Grandfather

And thus it was that Richard for the first time entered the country which had been the land of his ancestors for so long a time, and over which he was himself so soon to reign.

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